Canada’s voters taught the political pragmatists the same lesson I’ve been telling Republicans for over a decade: pragmatism in politics is ultimately self-defeating:
Unless the culture (of the Conservative party) changes, it should not count on being returned to power any time soon. We should be clear where the roots of that culture lie. The nastiness of Tory politics under Harper, the mindless partisanship, the throttling of backbench MPs, are not outgrowths of conservatism. They were born, rather, of its repudiation: of the decision to sterilize the new party of any ideological convictions, the better (it was supposed) to remove any obstacle to its electability.
Politics fills a vacuum: in the absence of substantive differences with your opponents, partisanship takes its place. If, what is more, a party no longer stands for much as a party, then its policies will default to whatever the leader decides. And the leader, having been given that power and that assignment — win at all costs — can tolerate no deviations from MPs still under the impression that the party harbors some lingering principles.
There has been much talk of how Red Tories were made to feel unwelcome in the party. But the truth is no sort of conservative could really feel the Harper government represented them: not fiscal conservatives, $150 billion in debt later; not social conservatives, forbidden even to say the word “abortion”; certainly not old-time Reformers, the sort of people who went into politics to make governments and leaders more accountable, not less.
The only party faction that was really served was the yahoo faction, the “toxic Tories” as a friend calls them, to whom this government truckled and whose loyalty was rewarded in turn. MPs who were willing to say the opposite of what they believed, or believe the opposite of the facts, were promoted; those who were not found themselves out of cabinet, or indeed out of the party.
The people around Harper, always convinced of their own cleverness, grew drunk on their own cynicism. Having made the initial compromise with their principles — on policy — they found the next much easier, and the next, until they became contemptuous of anything resembling a principle, or anyone still able to discern a line — political, personal, ethical — he would not cross.
Ideological principle is the lifesblood of a political party. The more a party focuses on “electability” and “pragmatism”, the more it cuts its own wrists and drains its own blood. Eventually, the point is reached that the party exists for no reason but to profit the party elite, which is understandably not of interest to anyone outside that elite.
What do the Republicans stand for today?
Pragmatism in politics is like cocaine. A little bit goes a long ways. You not only win, but you feel like an all-conquering tiger. But gradually, you start needing more and more to achieve the same affect, until finally, you overdose and your heart stops.